Friday, June 10, 2016

Early St. Tammany History

Judge Frederick S. Ellis wrote the book on St. Tammany history, literally. He has given many talks throughout the community about the research he has conducted, and over the years he has shared many fascinating tidbits of historical interest. His interest ranges from the earliest geological and geographical aspects of the area to the early 20th century politics. 

Steve Ellis

Here is a link to an MP3 file featuring the audio to a speech he gave to the Greater Covington Chamber of Commerce. It is particularly interesting near the end when he tells of the Independent State of the West Florida Republic and how it was brought into the United States in 1810. 

If you prefer to read what he said, here is the article. Click on the image below to make it larger and more readable. 

Ellis Tells Of Early St. Tammany History
Published Feb. 5, 1976, St. Tammany Farmer

Judge Frederick S. Ellis spoke to the Greater Covington Chamber of Commerce recently on the sidelights to the early history of St Tammany Parish. His talk stretched from the first Ice Age a million years ago to the mid-1800's.

Ellis was introduced by J. P. Warner of the chamber who told the audience that Ellis was bitten by the history bug three years ago. Since then, he has done considerable research in the history of the area.

Ellis told how St Tammany Parish got where it is, with the glaciers from the north carving out hig chunks of land, sliding them south and dropping them when the big thaw took place The last thaw, Ellis said, was about 50,000 years ago and that was when St. Tammany was deposited.

"That last freeze was lucky for us." he said, "or we'd all be meeting in Washington Parish tonight." He explained that the shoreline of the Gulf ol Mexico had been up in Washington Parish.

"New Orleans and that area is all built up of silt brought down the Mississippi River." he went on to say. The reason why the Tchefuncte River and the bayous Lacombe and Liberty are all so deep is because during the last Ice Age, they were many hundreds of feet above sea level, and thus ran very fast. "Now the Tchefuncte River runs slow, if at all," he commented.

Geography has a lot to do with the way an area is developed, Eliis said, and St. Tammany Parish was not too attractive for early permanent residents because it was surrounded by swamps and water. The Pearl River swamp closed in on it from the east, the Tangipahoa River swamp came in on it from the west, Lake Pontchartrain splashed at the southern shore and the Bogue Chitto swamp stretched across the top.

"St Tammany Parish was in a fairly unique situation." he stated "You couldn't get anywhere from here." That was. of course, in the days betore the interstate highways when swamps were a formidable harrier to traders. Indians and others.

Only one Indian tribe" settled here for any length of time, and they moved on eventually. Some Choctaw Indians did remain in the Lacombe area, however."

He told of an old Choctaw legend which bore a striking resemblance to a Biblical story, and he told in detail how Iberville discovered Lake Pontchartrain and the northshore of St. Tammany. Iberville supposedly landed on Goose Point in 1699, but he was not impressed.

The explorer wrote that the water was brackish, there were no trees, and the mosquitoes were thick, calling them "terrible little animals that are very un-comfortable to people who need rest."

Later that year, Bienville explored Lake Pontchartrain further, discovering Bayou Castine and other St. Tammany features. In the early 1700's, the  French  promoted a meager settlement, living with the Indians on Bayou Castine. They then found that St. Tammany offered good hunting, good fishing and good land for growing crops.

A commercial venture making tar and pitch from the area's pine trees was started, and it justified the French efforts to remain in St. Tammany. The pitch-making industry continued late into the 1800's.

Ellis told briefly of the Frenchmen who figured in St. Tammany history, men known as Lacombe, Liberty, Vincent and Bon Fouca. They liked to name bayous after themselves, he noted.
He also told of the local action in the American Revolutionary War, when a ship of Creoles captured a British ship on Lake Pontchartrain. The ship was trying to sneak up to Baton Rouge for a battle there, but the Creoles surprised them at Pass Manchac and made such a noise that all those on the British ship ran below decks. The Creoles then boarded their ship, closed and locked the hatches. It was very dramatic, Ellis noted.

In 1779,  the English residents in St. Tammany gave in to an American ship in the lake and wore allegiance to the new United States. This lasted only a few days, since Spain immediately captured Britain's West Florida properties.

Anyway, the area was brought back into the United States in 1810, seven years after the Louisiana Purchase. This was after the West Florida rebellion and the annexation of the area into the state of Louisiana.

Since then, the area has attracted quite a bit of attention, Ellis said, but he closed his talk quoting from several early 1800 writings about St. Tammany. One said that there were not too many virtuous men to be found in the area and the respect for laws was not taken too seriously.